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An Easy Explanation Of How Nonstick Cookware Actually Works

How does nonstick coatings work
How does nonstick coatings work

I bet you have sometime in your life been fascinated by a non-stick pan.

Just marveling at those droplets of liquid, whether oil or water, running around in the pan as you move and tilt it.

Not sticking to it or making liquid trails.

In this article I will explain to you how that is possible.

In this article I will discuss:


In the previous article we have explained why pots and pans burn.

To recap, it has all to do with the conduction of heat.

To be precise, in the the case of the burning of cookware, it has to do with heat not being conducted away from the cooking surface effectively.

You then have a buildup of heat that promotes the disappearance of liquids in both the food as well on the cooking surface.

And this all leads to burning.

We have also explained how to minimize or prevent this.

One of the ways was to keep food moving on the cooking surface, because once it sits in one place, chances are it will dry out in some spots which will lead to burning.

Now, in this article, we will continue there and explain why non-stick coatings not only prevents food from sticking, but also from burning that easily.

A bit of history of nonstick coatings

Teflon, as the most famous and original nonstick coating is known, was actually discovered by mistake.

A scientist, Roy Plunkett, was working for DuPont trying to make a new refrigerant.

That is the stuff in air conditioners responsible for cooling.

In 1938 during one of his experiments with tetrafluoroethylene gas, the gas turned into a solid that looked like plastic.

And just like that, Teflon was born.

As it turned out, almost nothing could stick to that stuff.

It was also very heat resistant.

It didn’t take long to figure out that a nonstick surface in cookware would be pretty awesome.

Fast forward more than 80 years and most people are now familiar with nonstick coatings on cookware.

How does nonstick coatings on cookware work

Polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE in short, is made up of long strings of carbon atoms surrounded by a layer of fluorine.

This compound is very hydrophobic.

That means water, as well as any water containing liquids, can’t wet it.

The reason for this is that the PTFE is very electronegative.

It just means that there are heaps of shared electrons around it.

And it has an extremely low friction coefficient, which means it is very very slippery.

So when you coat cookware with PTFE, you have cookware to which almost no food can stick.

And that has major advantages.

How does nonstick coatings help prevent food burning

As mentioned before, you can minimize burning of food if you keep moving it around in the pot or pan.

When food starts to burn, on a very small scale, it starts to sick to the base of the cookware.

Because of some food particles then already stuck to the base, it gets more and more difficult to move food around the base.

The less movement of food due to this, the more burning and more sticking.

And so the cycle continues.

And exactly right here is where nonstick coatings come into play.

If food can’t start sticking to the surface, it can’t burn onto the surface. And the whole burning cycle gets cut short.

Brilliant, isn’t it?

How to maintain a nonstick coating

As you’ve seen, the key to a nonstick coating is that it’s very slippery.

All you have to do then is to maintain that slipperiness by not scratching or damaging the surface.

You can easily achieve that by following these guidelines

  • Don’t use sharp and edgy cooking utensils while cooking. Instead use wooden or plastic utensils.
  • Never cut food in the nonstick pot or pan. This is a sure way of damaging the surface.
  • Use soft sponges and mild dishwashing liquid when cleaning nonstick cookware. Abrasive dishwashing sponges or scourers, as well as steel wool, will damage the surface.
  • Never cook on too high heat settings. PTFE has a high heat resistance, but at the same time it also can’t conduct heat that efficiently.

That basically means that it can take heat well, but not in excessive amounts. So for searing, I recommend using a stainless steel pan instead.


Nonstick cookware revolutionised cooking.

You can experiment so much more with cooking methods and ingredients without the constant worry of the food burning that easily.

There are some very good quality nonstick cookware out there made by several reputable companies.

Along with PTFE you also get several other types of nonstick coatings, all with their pros and cons.

If you choose a good quality set and look after it, it will last you years.

Happy cooking!